Last Sunday I left Sabzevar and headed out into the desert again. The strange thing is that many people have told me that the wind usually blows from west to east, but that has not been the case for me. And this day I had to struggle with a head wind for the whole day. It’s hard for the body to cycle into the wind for a whole day, but I think it’s just frustrating when it feels like you’re not getting anywhere. Out in the desert it’s hard sometimes to find a nice place to stop for lunch. For a long time I never saw any trees where I could stop and hide from the burning sun, so eventually I stopped by some big rocks and found some shade under a big rock. Another thing that slowed me down a bit was that the ball bearings in one of my pedals were broken and I had to keep pressure on it to make it spin around. I continued on and eventually made it to Neyshabur and met up with my host Yaser. I had a nice relaxing evening and the next day he showed me to a nice bike shop where I could get some new pedals. Later we met up with his friend Somaye and went to see the Tomb of Omar Khayyám and some other places around. We had a nice day and finished it off with a good dinner.
The next day I got back on my bike and pedaled on with my new shiny pedals. I didn’t have any luck with the wind today either and I was slow until the road turned north and I had a relaxing side wind. When I came close to Mashhad the dark clouds that I had seen for a while eventually came over me and it started raining. The big problem isn’t the rain, it’s the trucks passing by splashing dirty water all over me. So when I arrived in Mashhad me and my bike, which were clean just an hour ago where now really dirty. But I was happy to be in Mashhad and met up with my host, Sajjad at the edge of the city. We loaded my stuff into the car and drove to his home where I could get out of my dirty clothes and into a nice and warm shower. Sajjad is a musician and has a big passion for country music. It’s not really the genre you associate with Iranian people. But he is really good and works with musicians from different genres and also makes his own music and covers others with some really nice videos. Check them out on youtube:
At night me, Sajjad and his sister Sara went out and had a nice dinner at a restaurant before heading home where Sajjad got out the guitar and played some music. I tried to stay up longer, but it was difficult to keep my eyes open after cycling 120 km. So I went to bed and had a great night’s sleep downstairs in what used to be Sajjads studio. The next day we went to Vali’s homestay where the owner had helped me with my visa to Turkmenistan. I was hoping to meet some other cyclists there since it was a place that I had read others recommending. But I didn’t see any guest there, so I’m happy I didn’t stay there since it would probably have been boring. I filled out another paper and we made plans to meet outside of the embassy the next morning because I had to bring my passport. I thought I would find a good map of Central Asia in Mashhad, but we looked around everywhere without any luck. Later we went by Sajjads brothers hair salon where I got a nice haircut. At night some friends of Sajjad came by and we had a little party. We had a great time and I made some friends that I would see some more of during my time in Mashhad.
The next morning we met up with Vali outside of the embassy and handed in my passport. We met some cool people outside of the embassy. One Japanese guy travelling the world, he was also going to Turkmenistan but not with bicycle. And while everyone else there had a jacket on and were a little cold in the shade, he came walking bare foot in sandals and with just a T-shirt. Another funny guy was an older man who started by high fiving everyone before trying to guess where we were from. And he guessed right that I was from Sweden and that the other guy was from Japan. And at the Japanese guy he kept repeating Genghis Khan, Genghis Khan. At one a clock we were back at the embassy to pick up the passport and luckily I got my five day’s transit visa. I had heard that some cyclist only got three days, and it would have been almost impossible to cross Turkmenistan in that time.
At night me, Sajjad and some friends went out for a really nice dinner at a traditional restaurant. And I have to say that I’m going to miss the Iranian food. Everything is good. After dinner we stopped by another friend’s house where we had a good time with of course some tea, sweets and good music. Ehsan was also working with music for other artist’s and also on his own album.
On Friday me and Sajjad and Niloo drove out of the city to her family’s summer house where Sajjad took some nice model photos of her. It was a really nice place and it was nice to get out of the city and see a little bit of nature. Later we had a great lunch at a nice place where you could sit outside in a garden. After a Shish kebab I was stuffed and we had a look around before heading back into town.
In the evening we had made plans to meet up with two other couchsurfers and there host at a café. And if you think I’m doing something extreme you should meet Caroline. She started walking with six other women from France. They got fewer and fewer and eventually she was the only one that kept on walking. She met up with Cedric, also a Frenchman travelling by foot. His goal was to reach Mongolia while Caroline was going around the world for a total of ten years. They were really inspiring and had a lot of great stories to tell.
It was already late when we said goodbye and good luck to Caroline and Cedric. But we decided to go and see Mashhads biggest attraction, Holy Shrine. I knew a little about is before I came here but had no idea how big it was. Even if we were there after midnight there where a lot of people there, especially around the shrine. It was really big and luckily Sajjad knew his was around. Almost at least, He told me the place had grown since last he was there and we could see that they were expanding with new buildings. And it was beautiful at night when the place was lit up. But the main part blew my mind .After walking through a golden port you enter into a building covered in gold and beautiful walls. And everywhere the roof was covered on mirrors and it almost makes your head spin just by looking at it.
And even at night it was crowded around the shrine and people where kissing it, rubbing scarfs at it and lifting up their children close to it. After standing there for a while it was nice to get out and away from the hysteria. We went back and had our latest dinner so far at 3 am.
The next day Sajjad had been in contact with Caroline and Cedric and they had decided to stay another day in Mashhad and at Sajjads house. We had a great day and evening together with lots of stories and more great food by Sajjads mother. Later some friends of Sajjad came by to say goodbye to me and we had a good time with more live music.
On Sunday it was time for all of us to leave Mashhad. I really had a good time in the city and made a lot of friends that I will keep in contact with and hopefully meet again. I said goodbye to Caroline and Cedric next to the Holy Shrine where they had stopped walking when arriving in Mashhad. And since they were walking every step of the way that’s where they started again from. Sajjad showed me the way out of the city and I headed out into the wind again.
I had two days of cycling over 200 km to the border. The first day I just kept pushing on and managed to do about 100 km in the wind and found a nice place for my tent among some hills. I started early the next day and got warm directly since the first stretch was uphill. Many stores where closed since it was early in the morning. But here in Iran you don’t have to go hungry for long. Halfway up the hill some nice people invited me in for breakfast, so with a full stomach I cycled up the last bit of uphill.
After that it was mostly down through a nice valley with the warm morning sun shining. I reached the border town Sarakhs at around three a clock and asked some people for a place to camp or a cheap hotel. Two nice guys showed me a place where truckers stayed for the night waiting to cross the border and told me that it was okay to camp there. It didn’t feel very nice and I decided go with a hotel for the night. I wanted to be fully rested for my five days to come when I have to cross Turkmenistan without much rest. And also a good time to update the blog since I haven’t had time for that.
So tomorrow I’m leaving Iran unfortunately. If I knew beforehand that it was going to be this great I probably would have planned to stay for at least two months. It’s my favorite country so far and the people here are so friendly and hospitable. Before I had mostly heard bad things on the TV about the country, and it’s too bad that most people don’t know how great this place is. I’m sure I’ll return here someday to visit all the friends I have made here during this time.
A big thank you to all the people that I have met here. Everyone from those who have hosted me to those who stop me by the road to give me fruit, bread, chocolate, nuts and so much tea!!=)